Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65), and her son, George Henry, Viscount Seaham (1821- 84)

This double portrait of Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry and her son, George, was painted three years before Lawrence’s death, and is one of his grandest portraits. The marchioness is being led by her son up the steps of Wynyard Park, the Co Durham estate she inherited from her father, Sir Henry Vane-Tempest, the owner of the great racehorse, Hambletonian.  The elegance of her stance, the exaggerated length of her arms and neck, and the sumptuous treatment of her red velvet dress which all contrast so delightfully with her son’s energy and freshness of expression, testify to Lawrence’s brilliance. 

“Everybody is enchanted by it.”

It was commissioned by her husband, Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778–1854), whose military career is reflected in his son’s military style jacket. Both Charles and his older brother, Viscount Castlereagh (1769-1822) were key patrons of Lawrence for nearly 40 years and no fewer than eleven portraits of members of the family by Lawrence can be seen at Mount Stewart.  Lawrence was one of the chief mourners at Castlereagh’s funeral in 1822.

This portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy before arriving at Wynyard in 1828. Charles wrote to Lawrence “Your beautiful picture is safely arrived and is today placed over the chimney in the great Dining Room.  It is [impossible] for me to describe adequately the effects and improvements it [renders]…Everybody is enchanted with it”.

“the largest, finest and prettiest baby ever seen”

Frances Anne was the only child of the wealthy Sir Henry Vane-Tempest, 2nd Baronet, and Anne McDonnell, Countess of Antrim.  In 1819 she became Charles Stewart’s second wife. Having had a lonely childhood she delighted in her own children. George, her eldest son, was born in Vienna in April 1821, much to her delight. She wrote “I was attended by a German woman, who could not speak a word of French nor I of German, yet when she said a little Prince was born, I understood her and I thought I should have died of joy.  Certainly the moment when I found myself the mother of a boy was the happiest I have experienced before or since. It was the largest, finest and prettiest baby ever seen.”  Mother and child were well cared for by no fewer than three nurses and Frances Anne’s layette cost nearly £2,000, from the best shops of Paris, Brussels, London and Vienna. George grew to be a healthy boy and later became 5th Marquess of Londonderry.

Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65), and her son, George Henry, Viscount Seaham (1821- 84)
Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65), and her son, George Henry, Viscount Seaham (1821- 84)
Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry (1800-65), and her son, George Henry, Viscount Seaham (1821- 84)

Fabulous jewels

Frances Anne’s wealth enabled them to acquire the Seaham estate in County Durham, Holderness House in London (later renamed Londonderry House), and to rebuild Wynyard on a grand scale.  In the 1840s Charles also greatly extended Mount Stewart, the family’s principal seat in Ireland.

Frances Anne and Charles lived a lavish life-style at home and abroad, travelling extensively in Europe and Russia; he was Ambassador at Vienna from 1814-22.  It was in the 1820s that Frances Anne met Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who was smitten by her beauty and elegance and they became friends.  They shared a love of precious stones, and Frances Anne wears on her shoulder, in the Russian manner, magnificent Siberian amethyst clasps gifted to her by Alexander.  Her second daughter, Alexandrina, was name after the Tsar.   

After her husband’s death Frances Anne took an active role in the management of the family’s coal mining business, becoming one of Britain’s first female industrialists. Disraeli described how ‘she transacts with innumerable agents, immense business – and I remember her five-and-twenty years ago, a mere fine lady; nay, the finest in London! But one must find excitement if one has brains.’